Few bills have caused more grown men to cry while testifying at the Utah State Capitol than Senate Bill 296, Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments. The bill is the outcome of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ statement that they favor efforts at passing nondiscrimination legislation, as long as it was paired with religious freedoms legislation.
Weeks of late-night negotiations between church representatives, legislators on both sides of the aisle, representatives of Equality Utah, The National Center for Lesbian Rights, Human Rights Campaign and civil rights/religious rights legal specialist Robin Fretwell Wilson started with what those involved said was a mile-wide chasm.
“There was a lot of people and a lot of faith that went into this particular bill,” House sponsor State Rep. Brad Dee (R-Ogden) said as he voice broke with emotion on the bill’s reading on the House floor.
This is the eighth year the bill was proposed on Utah’s Capitol Hill. The first effort was proposed in 2008 by then-Rep. Christine Johnson (D-Salt Lake City). After she left the state to be the executive director of South Carolina Equality, Ben McAdams sponsored a similar bill. This is the third year Sen. Steve Urquhart (R-St. George) sponsored the measure. Last year, all bills were tabled by Republican legislators as a challenge to District Judge Robert Shelby’s decision that Utah’s Amendment 3 and other laws blocking same-sex marriage were unconstitutional made its way through the courts.
The bill passed both the Senate and the House overwhelmingly and was signed at a rally in the Utah Capitol Building Rotunda by Gov. Gary Herbert.